United states history


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The following vignette appeared as part of a 1992 Oregonian article on the apology of the state of Georgia for its role in Indian Removal 160 years earlier.
More than 160 years after Georgia officials ignored a direct order from the U.S. Supreme Court to stop actions leading up to the infamous Trail of Tears, the state is admitting it made a mistake. Officials on Wednesday will formally pardon tow missionaries jailed when the fought the state's seizure of Cherokee Indian land. "This is one of many injustices done, but it's something that we could do something about," said Marsha Bailey, spokeswoman for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. "It was a miscarriage of justice." The pardon says it "acts to remove a stain on the history of criminal justice in Georgia" land acknowledges the state usurped Cherokee sovereignty and ignored the Supreme Court.

A legislator and Cherokee descendant called the pardon a sign that Georgia finally realizes the scope of its mistreatment of the Cherokee. "If we ever had political prisoners in this state or this nation, these two were the best examples," said state Rep. Bill Dover, chief executive of the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee. "It's been a sore place in the side of the Indian people for all these generations that these two wonderful Christian gentlemen were sent to prison because they believe in God and they believed in the Cherokee Nation," Dover said.

Samuel Austin Worcester and Elihu Butler were sentenced to four years in jail in 1831 for residing in the Cherokee Nation without a license. A law was enacted to try to stop the two from protesting the state's seizure of Cherokee land in northwest Georgia. Until 1828, the Cherokee Nation was considered a sovereign foreign country, with its land off limits to settlers. But in 1829, gold was discovered in Dahlonega and Georgia seized much of the land and abolished Cherokee sovereignty. Worcester and Butler, who lived at the Cherokee capital of New Echota, attracted national attention to the American Indians' cause. To muzzle them, the state required all white men living on Cherokee land to obtain a state license. Worcester and Butler refused and were convicted of "high misdemeanor." The missionaries appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1832, Chief Justice John Marshall declared Georgia had no constitutional right to extend any state laws over the Cherokee, including seizing their land, and must release the missionaries. But Georgia ignored the ruling. The missionaries spend 16 months doing hard labor as part of a chain gang, Dover said.

They were released in time to join the Trail of Tears, when Georgia forced up to 17,000 Cherokees to move west. Thousands died of cold and starvation during the march, but the missionaries made it to Oklahoma and continued their work among Cherokee there.

The state repealed its Cherokee laws in 1979, but until now never formally admitted the actions were wrong, said Dover.
Source: The Portland Oregonian, November 23, 1992.

The passages below, a poem extolling the attractions of frontier Illinois in the 1820s, and a frontier farmer's description of community life at the edge of settlement in 1836, explain the both the lure of the frontier and the impact of the migratory tendencies of Americans on attitudes toward the land and patterns of social organization.
Come all you good farmers that on your plow depend,

Come listen to a story, come listen to a friend:

Oh, leave your fields of childhood, you enterprising boys:

Come travel west and settle on the plains of Illinois.

Illinois, it is as fine country as ever has been seen,

If old Adam had traveled over that, perhaps he would say the same,

"All in the garden of Eden, when I was but a boy,

There was nothing I could compare with the plains of Illinois."

Perhaps you have a few acres that near your friends' adjoin,

Your family is growing large, for them you must provide,

Come, leave your friends of childhood, you enterprising boys,

Come travel west and settle on the plains of Illinois.

I have spoken of the moveable part of the community, and unfortunately for the western country, it constitutes too great a proportion of the whole community. Next to hunting, Indian wars, and the wonderful exuberance of Kentucky, the favorite topic is new countries. They talk of them. They are attached to the associations connected with such conversations. They have a fatal effect upon their exertions. They have not motive, in consonance with these feelings, to build "for posterity and the immortal gods." They only make such improvements as they can leave without reluctance and without loss. I have every where noted the operation of this impediment in the way of those permanent and noble improvements which grow out of a love for that appropriated spot where we are born, and where we expect to die. Scarcely has a family fixed itself, and enclosed a plantation with the universal fence  split rails  reared a suitable number of log buildings, in short achieved the first rough improve­ments, that appertain to the most absolute necessity than the assembled family about the winter fire begin to talk about the prevailing events,  some country that has become the rage, as a point of immigration. They offer their farm for sale, and move away.
Source: Stephan Thernstrom, A History of the American People, Vol. I, (New York, 1989), pp. 300, 309.

The various public land laws encouraged settlement of the American frontier and provided the major source of revenue to the United States treasury prior to the Civil War. Listed below are the most important land laws enacted between 1785 and 1820 which promoted westward expansion.
Ordinance of 1785. Allowed a minimum purchase of 640 acres and set a minimum price of $ 1 an acre. Made no provision for credit.
Act of 1796. Raised the minimum price to $2 an acre but allowed a year's credit on half of the amount due.
Act of 1800. Reduced the minimum purchase from 640 to 320 acres and extended credit to four years, with a down payment of one fourth of the whole amount and three later installments.
Act of 1804 Further reduced the minimum purchase to 160 acres. (Now a man with as little as $80 on hand could obtain a farm from the government, although he would still owe $240 to be paid within four years.)
Act of 1820. Reduced the minimum purchase still further, to 80 acres, and the minimum price to $1.25 an acre, but abolished the credit system.
*Note: Most public lands were sold at auctions and much of it sold for more than the minimum price.

The following table shows the growth of the population of the states between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The date of admission to the Union is listed next to the state.
1810 1840
Ohio (1803) 230,760 1,519,467

Louisiana (1812) 76,556 352,411

Indiana (1816) 24,520 685,866

Mississippi (1817) 40,352 375,651

Illinois (1818) 12,282 476,183

Alabama (1819) * 590,756

Missouri (1821) 20,845 383,702

Arkansas (1836) 1,062 97,574

Michigan (1837) 4,762 212,267
*Part of Mississippi
Sources: Richard Current, American History: A Survey,(New York: Knopf, 1961), p. 219; John M. Blum, The National Experience: A History of the United States, (New York, Harcourt Brace, 1989), p. 189.

This brief description of a frontier farm in southwest Ohio in 1830 by British writer Frances Trollope provides a glimpse into early 19th Century agricultural life and illustrates the independence and self-sufficiency that necessarily comes with settlement in isolated settings.

“We visited the farm which interested us particularly from its wild and lonely situation, and from the entire dependence of the inhabitants upon their own resources. It was a partial clearing in the very heart of the forest. The house was built on the side of a hill, so steep that a high ladder was necessary to enter the front door, while the back one opened against the hill side: at the foot of this sudden eminence ran a clear stream, whose bed had been deepened into a little reservoir, just opposite the house. A noble field of Indian corn stretched away into the forest on one side, and a few half cleared acres, with a shed or two upon them, occupied the other, giving accommodation to cows, horses, pigs, and chickens innumerable. Immediately before the house was a small potato garden, with a few peach and apple trees. The house was built of logs, and consisted of two rooms, besides a little shanty or lean­-to, that was used as a kitchen. Both rooms were comfortably furnished with good beds, drawers, etc. The farmer's wife, and a young woman who looked like her sister, were spinning, and three little children were playing about. The woman told me that they spun and wove all the cotton and woolen garments of the family, and knit all the stockings; her husband, though not a shoemaker by trade, made all the shoes. She manufactured all the soap and candies they used, and prepared her sugar from the sugar trees on their farm. All she wanted with money, she said, was to buy coffee, tea, and whiskey, and she could 'get enough any day by sending a batch of butter and chicken to market.' They used no wheat, nor sold any of their corn, which, though it appeared a very large quantity, was not more than they required to make their bread and cakes of various kinds, and to feed all their live stock during the winter. She did not look in health, and said they had all had ague [fever] in 'the fall'; but she seemed contented and proud of her independence; though it was in somewhat mournful accent that she said: 'Tis strange to us to see company. set a hundred times, I expect the sun may rise and before I shall see another human that does not belong to the family.’

Source: Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans reprinted in Pauline Maier, Inventing America: A History of the United States, vol. 1. ( New York, 2003), p. 377.

The Fourth of July in 19th Century America was a time of widespread celebration. Even as wagon trains traveled west on Overland Trail to Oregon and California, travelers took time off to celebrate. The following vignette comes from the diary of William Swain, a 27-year-old farmer from western New York who, like thousands of others in 1849, was headed to the California gold fields to strike it rich.
July 4. [At sunrise a salute of thirteen guns was fired.] We lay in bed late this morning and after a late breakfast set about getting fuel for cooking our celebration dinner.

Our celebration of the day was very good, much better than I anticipated. We had previously invited Mr. Sexton of the Plymouth company...to deliver an address, and we had appointed Mr. Pratt to read the Declaration of Independence. We had one of the tents pitched at a short distance from the camp, in which was placed a table with seats for the officers of the day and the orators. The table was spread with a blanket.

At twelve o'clock we formed a procession and walked to the stand to the tune of 'The Star Spangled Banner.' The President of the day called the meeting to order. We listened to a prayer by Rev. Mr. Hobart, then remarks and the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Mr. Pratt, and then the address by Mr. Sexton. We then listened to 'Hail Columbia.' This celebration was very pleasing, especially the address, which was well delivered and good enough for any assembly at home.

We then marched to the 'hall,' which was formed by running the wagons in two rows close enough together for the wagon covers to reach from one to the other, thus forming a fine hall roofed by the covers and a comfortable place for the dinner table, which was set down the center.

Dinner consisted of ham, beans, boiled and baked, biscuits, john cake, apple pie, sweet cake, rice pudding, pickles, vinegar, pepper sauce and mustard coffee, sugar, and milk. All enjoyed it well.

After dinner the toasting commenced. The boys had raked and scraped together all the brandy they' could, and they toasted, hurrayed, and drank till reason was out and brandy was in. I stayed till the five regular toasts were drunk; and then, being disgusted with their conduct, I went to our tent in which I enjoyed myself better than those who were drinking, carousing, and hallooing all around the camp.

Source: J. S. Holliday, The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience (New York, 1981), pp. 167-168.

Country of Origin 1821 1830 1831 1840 1841 1850 1851 1860
Ireland 51,000 207,000 781,000 914,000

German States 6,800 152,000 433,000 952,000

Great Britain 25,000 76,000 267,000 424,000

(excluding Ireland)

British Canada 2,300 14,000 42,000 59,000

China 2 8 35 41,000

Total Number of Immigrants

1820-1824 38,689

1825-1829 89,813

1830-1834 230,442

1835-1839 307,939

1840-1844 400,031

1845-1849 1,027,306

1850-1854 1,917,527

1855-1859 897,027
Total 4,908,774

Percentage of Immigrants By Country of Origin

Ireland 38.9%

Germany 30.4%

Great Britain 15.6%

France, Switzerland & Low Countries 5.5%

Canada 2.3%

Other 7.3%
Sources: Lewis Todd and Merle Curti, Rise of the American Nation, (New York, 1982), p. 286; John M. Blum, The National Experience, (New York, 1985), p. 313.

In the passage below historian Shih-shan Henry Tsai describes the push factors that prompted Chinese emigration to the United States beginning in the 1840s.
Almost all of the Chinese who emigrated to the United States in the nineteenth century were natives of Kwangtung, a southern Chinese province of about eighty thousand square miles, approximately the area of the state of Oregon. In this hilly province only 16% of the land was cultivated as late as 1955, and, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of this cultivated land was used to grow such commercial crops as fruit, sugarcane, indigo, and tobacco instead of rice, the staple food of the Chinese. Consequently, the common folk suffered from the ever-rising price of rice. This situation was further aggravated by the increase in population throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.... In 1787 the population of Kwangtung numbered 16 million; by 1850 it had increased to 28 million. But during the 1850s and 1860s Kwangtung was devastated by the Taipings and the Triad-led rebels. Fighting also broke out between Punti (Cantonese speaking) and Hakka (Guest Settlers) people in the region southwest of the Pearl River Delta. These conflicts resulted in political disorder, social chaos, and economic dislocations. The Hsin-ning hsien-chih (Gazetteer of the Hsin-ning district) graphically described the situation. "The fields in the four directions were choked with weeds. Small families found it difficult to make a living and often drowned their girl babies because of the impossibility of looking after them." Emigration was very much in evidence.

The largest portion of the Chinese in America come from Kwangtung's most populous prefecture, Kwangchou, which contains the city of Canton, and from the colony of Macao. The Cantonese were more venturesome than most Chinese because of their early contact with foreigners, and because British Hong Kong served as a steppingstone for their adventures. Emigrant ships that carried Chinese to California seldom sailed directly from any other port in China. More than nine-tenths of the Chinese emigrants embarked from San Francisco at Hong Kong. The emigrants traveled in junks, lorchas, or rafts over the waterways of the Pearl River Delta from their native villages to Hong Kong. The officials at Canton normally did not interfere with their countrymen going to Hong Kong, nor did the British authorities try to detain them.

Chinese emigrants obtained the money to pay their passage in various ways. Some had saved money, others sold their property, including land or hogs, to secure passage. Some borrowed money from friends and relatives. Some pledged their families as security for the loan. They came at their own option, and when the arrived in California they were free to go where they pleased and to engage in any occupation they liked.
Source: Shih-shan Henry Tsai, China and the Overseas Chinese in the United States, 1868-1911 (Fayetteville, 1983), pp. 14, 16.

The following is Nelson Chia-chi Ho's description of Portland's Chinese community in the late 19th Century.
The Chinese have been in Portland almost since its beginning and have grown up with the city. Direct trade between Portland and China began in 1851, when the brig Emma Preston became the first vessel from Oregon to sail to Canton, China... In the spring of 1857 [additional] Chinese arrived on the steamer Columbia. They became cooks in restaurants, or private homes, obtained employment in laundries or worked as gardeners and servants for wealthy Portland residents...

By the mid-1870s, the Chinese had become the largest ethnic group in Portland.... In 1890, with a population of 5,184 in a city of 46,385, Portland's Chinatown was a well-established part of the city. In the late 1880s Chinatown stretched along S.W. Second Avenue from Pine Street to Taylor Street and into some adjacent areas. The center of the community was at the intersection of Second Avenue and Alder Street. The buildings people occupied were mainly of solid brick, built by whites initially, but on long leases to the Chinese at enormous rates. The bottom story of each building usually served as a business of some sort. Store windows displayed a variety of foods, including dried shark's fins, aged eggs, geese and ducks (live or preserved in oil), fruits and confections. The drug stores carried an assortment of products; dried reptiles, preserved snakes, elk horn, ginseng, peppermint, licorice, and a large inventory of medicinal herbs. Others conducted business on the sidewalks with vegetables stalls, fruit stands, and chicken coops. Laundry vendors with poles and baskets squeezed through the maze of activities. Here pipes were smoked and the mother tongue was spoken.

The upper floors frequently had wrought-iron balconies with moon-like windows. These were the crowded living quarters where some 20 persons could sleep in a 12-by-20 foot room in bunks stacked from floor to ceiling...

The Chinese did not erect temples in Portland's Chinatown, but had a common meeting place known as the Chinese Joss House, which was in the upper floor of a building on Second Avenue. Many whites...resented the presence of the Chinese....on one occasion a [Chinese man] was once used to demonstrate the power of electricity. This drew a large crowd, which greatly enjoyed the sight of a Chinese being electrically shocked...

Before 1906, in the absence of consular representatives, the residents of Portland's Chinatown enjoyed a measure of civil autonomy. The merchant class soon became the ruling elite. Because commercial success was so closely tied to social acceptance in America, this elite enjoyed good relations with public officials. The president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association was popularly deemed as the "Mayor of Chinatown," and was the semi-official representative of the Chinese government. Finally, on October 2, 1906, in recognition of Portland's large Chinese population and the importance of this city's trade with China, Moy Back Hin, a Chinese millionaire in Portland, was name the consul for...Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, with headquarters in Portland. The consul was the fourth to be appointed to represent the Chinese government in the United States. The other three were in San Francisco, Boston, and New York.
Source: Nelson Chia-chi Ho, Portland's Chinatown: The History of An Urban Ethnic District, (Portland, 1981), pp. 9-17.
Rev. Charles Finney, a New York City Presbyterian minister who moved in the 1830s and later was President of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866, was one of the nation's leading revivalists. He was also an advocate of reform and encouraged the Church to lead that effort. In this 1835 lecture he explains the relationship between revivalism and reform.
There should be great and deep repentings on the part of ministers. We, my brethren, must humble ourselves before God. It will not do for us to suppose that it is enough to call on the people to repent. We must repent, we must take the lead in repentance, and then call on the church to follow.

The church must take right ground in regard to politics. Do not suppose, now, that I am going to preach a political sermon, or that I wish to have you join and get up a Christian party in politics....But the time has come that Christians must vote for honest men, and take consistent ground in politics, or the Lord will curse them.

...And if [every man] will give his vote only for honest men, the country will be obliged to have upright rulers. All parties will be compelled to put up honest men as candidates...As on the subjects of slavery and temperance, so on this subject, the church must act right, or the country will be ruined...

The church must take the right ground on the subject of slavery... Christ­ians can no more take neutral ground on this subject...than they can take neutral ground on the subject of sanctification of the Sabbath. It is a great national sin...

There are those in the churches who are standing aloof from the subject of moral reform, and who are as much afraid to have anything said in the pulpit against lewdness, as if a thousand devils had got up into the pulpit. On this subject, the church need not expect to be permitted to take neutral ground. In the providence of God, it is up for discussion. The evils have been exhibited; the call has been made for reform And what is to reform mankind but the truth? And who shall present the truth if not the church and the ministry? Away with the idea, that Christians can remain neutral, and yet enjoy the approbation and blessing of God.
Source: Richard N. Current and John A. Garraty, ed., Words that Made American History, Vol. I, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1965), pp. 386 387, 392.

Henry David Thoreau wrote "Civil Disobedience" after spending a night in a Massachusetts jail for refusing to pay his taxes in protest of the Mexican War and slavery. He calls on others to resist governmental policies which they feel are unjust. Here are excerpts from his influential essay.
I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least," and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematical­ly. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe: "That government is best which governs not at all:" and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all govern­ments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

This American government--what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves; and, if ever they should use it in earnest as a real one against each other, it will surely split. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone...

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it....
Source: Roger Babusci and others, Literature: The American Experience, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 1989), p. 290.

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